WEST BEND — The Department of State issued a Global Level 4 health advisory on March 31, which advises citizens to avoid all international travel. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the majority of countries have widespread ongoing transmission of COVID-19.
Around the globe, vacationers are facing canceled trips, mandatory quarantines and ever-changing rules and regulations. The coronavirus has wreaked havoc on the travel industry and is putting many travelers’ plans on hold until the foreseeable future.
“We ended up canceling almost all trips because you couldn’t go anywhere,” said Peggy Fischer, owner and president of Shooting Star Travels, 112 North Main Street, West Bend. “We literally have canceled hundreds and hundreds of trips.”
For trips to Mexico and the Caribbean alone, the agency had 98 cancellations, not including cruises.
In many of these situations, refunds are taking up to 90 days to process. Fischer said those who canceled vacations in early March just received a refund this week. With millions of Americans losing their jobs, the extra money from cancellations is much needed for many families.
At Shooting Star Travels, Fischer had to lay off all four of her staff members. Her agency does not receive pay unless people go on their trips.
Like many industries, the travel agency was affected by the quickly-changing protocols and mandates surrounding COVID-19.
“You could call one day and the next day, they’d change their policy and it’s a different rule,” Fischer said.
As a 34-year veteran of the travel industry, Fischer said she is extremely familiar with its rules. She is not only assisting clients, but also those who booked their own trips online and turned to a travel agent for help.
“We’re in the thick of this. This is what we do every single day, so we’re really well-versed in the rules and regulations and what needs to be done to protect our clients,” said Fischer.
Fischer has spent countless time on hold with airlines for clients sorting out refunds.
“There’s definitely value in using a travel service because we know what it takes and we’re here on behalf of the client,” she said.
In some cases, destination hotels plan to open in May, but no airlines are flying to that location. Another hotel may be partially opened, but vacationers will not have the full experience they hoped for. Some areas, such as Hawaii, are allowing visitors, but they must be quarantined for 14 days.
“Unfortunately, I fear that we may see whatever we do have on the books completely get canceled until 2021,” she said.
For those who have trips scheduled for later this year, Fischer advises that they wait until the date gets closer to make a final decision.
When COVID-19 clears up and the travel industry begins to fully operate once again, Fischer explained that people should be aware of potential changes. Airlines may require the middle seat to be open and destinations may require visitors to have their temperature taken.
She said that about half of her clients are excited to travel again while the other half are hesitant to board a plane. However, people may also be inspired to go on “bucket list” trips.
“We’re going to take it day by day and keep our fingers crossed,” she said.